Women Talking by Miriam Toews – review

This fictionalised story of a real-life rape in a religious colony is brave and thoughtful

A chilling tale of systematic subjugation in a rural religious colony, Miriam Toews’s new novel sounds like another addition to the current wave of feminist dystopias that have emerged post-Trump. But it is based on real events in a Mennonite community in Bolivia, in the mid-late 00s, where girls and women were repeatedly drugged and raped in their sleep, purportedly by demons but actually by local men, later jailed.

Toews’s fictional response begins after the attackers’ arrest. With the colony’s remaining men in town arranging bail, eight women – among them, Ona, pregnant with her rapist’s child, and teenager Neitje, whose mother has committed suicide – meet in a hayloft to decide what to do next. For the colony’s bishop, Peters, all that’s needed is for the perpetrators to come home so the victims ...